What we know (and don’t) about eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s ambitious new media startup

Gigaom

This week, it leaked that star Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who broke the news on the NSA scandals, is leaving the paper for what he described as “a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline.” It was soon revealed that the backer of that opportunity is billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

So what’s the new venture going to look like? Here’s what we know so far:

It’s totally digital, no print component, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen reported.

Omidyar is willing to pump a lot — like, a LOT — of money into it. Omidyar was one of the people approached about buying the Washington Post this summer. Rosen: ”I asked how large a commitment he was prepared to make [to the new site] in dollars. For starters: the $250 million it would have taken to buy the Washington Post.”

Also on board so far: Filmmaker Laura Poitras and The Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill. Scahill and Poitras “had already been in discussions with Greenwald about starting a venture together when Omidyar approached with a similar vision for a new media outlet,” Michael Calderone reported at the Huffington Post. Poitras worked with Greenwald and Edward Snowden on the NSA reporting and Scahill has covered national security issues for The Nation; his second book and documentary, Dirty Wars, were released this year.

The site won’t just focus on surveillance and security, though: It will be a general news site. “[The] endeavor will be independent of my other organizations, and…will cover general interest news, with a core mission around supporting and empowering independent journalists across many sectors and beats,” Omidyar wrote on his website. “The team will build a media platform that elevates and supports these journalists and allows them to pursue the truth in their fields. This doesn’t just mean investigative reporting, but all news.” Glenn Greenwald also told BuzzFeed that the new site “will have sports and entertainment and features. I’m working on the whole thing but the political journalism unit is my focus.”

Omidyar, Rosen reported, “believes that if independent, ferocious, investigative journalism isn’t brought to the attention of general audiences it can never have the effect that actually creates a check on power,” so the site “will have to serve the interest of all kinds of news consumers. It cannot be a niche product. It will have to cover sports, business, entertainment, technology: everything that users demand.”

And a few things we don’t know:

The site’s name, though apparently it has one already.

The site’s business model (beyond Omidyar’s millions). Rosen reported that “all proceeds from NewCo will be reinvested in the journalism.” CJR’s Ryan Chittum notes, ”If that’s the case, it will be a sort of quasi-nonprofit: able to sell ads and otherwise act like a publishing company but paying little to no taxes.” We don’t know, though, if the site will take ads.

Omidyar’s not a stranger to news ventures. He founded the Hawaiian local news site Honolulu Civil Beat in 2010. It initially cost a whopping $19.99 per month but cut its price to $9.99 per month about a year later, in response to the fact that the Honolulu Star Advertiser added a $9.95-per-month paywall to its own site. The Huffington Post also partnered with Honolulu Civil Beat to launch Huffington Post Hawaii this fall.

Honolulu Civil Beat has always been ad-free. In 2011, president Randy Ching wrote, “We don’t worry about upsetting advertisers — because we don’t have any.” It seems likely that Omidyar also would not want to worry about appeasing advertisers with his new venture, but the site could have trouble gaining traction behind a paywall. So perhaps the entire thing will be free, and free of advertising. We’ll have to wait and see.




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